Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper
Kenneth Hamblin III

Advocacy Group Gives Hickenlooper "B" in Marijuana Policy

As the governor of Colorado both before and after the state's voters approved marijuana legalization, John Hickenlooper often finds himself facing questions about cannabis, questions that lead to conversations about Colorado's regulation process. Now he's been given a solid B for his attitude and actions regarding the plant.

Hickenlooper and other politicians in states with legal marijuana routinely find their policies and comments dissected, but the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws takes it a step further by regularly grading every governor in the United States on their work regarding marijuana legalization. Although NORML sees some room for improvement, Hickenlooper has still been friendly enough to legalization efforts since the organization began grading governors in 2016 to earn a B grade this year.

Despite Colorado being the first state to allow the sales of recreational marijuana, Hickenlooper was one of seventeen to receive a B grade or higher. Bill Walker (Alaska), Phil Murphy (New Jersey), Kate Brown (Oregon), Phil Scott (Vermont) and Jay Inslee (Washington) all scored better.

The report card praises Hickenlooper's willingness to sign several bills over the years that have increased rights surrounding marijuana, including measures that added post-traumatic stress disorder to qualifying conditions for the state's medical marijuana registry, allow retail marijuana businesses to reclassify as medical in case of a federal crackdown, permit licensed medical patients to use marijuana while on probation or parole, and give Coloradans the ability to seal their criminal records relating to marijuana misdemeanors that are now legal. However, it doesn't mention Hickenlooper signing bills enforcing medical marijuana caregiver registration and severely limiting plant counts for patients, both of which were highly criticized by medical marijuana advocates.

Colorado's governor was one of the first state leaders to reach out to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions after Sessions began hinting at a looming change in federal law enforcement's approach toward state-legalized marijuana, which came in January.

Despite opposing Amendment 64 when it was up for a vote in 2012 and comments afterwards that indicated he wished he could reverse the decision, Hickenlooper has praised the way the state has handled the legal marijuana industry, and even taken back earlier disapproving remarks. He's also routinely criticized doom-and-gloom reports of rising youth use, crime and impaired drivers thanks to recreational marijuana, citing the lack of baseline data before retail dispensaries opened in 2014.

Reports that used bad data — or no data at all — inspired the governor's ex-wife to take issue with him on Twitter.  On April 23, Helen Thorpe tweeted that her ex was  "wrong on marijuana."

I adore my ex and agree with him on almost everything. But on this one, I agree w @USATODAY and the @csgazette. They call John out on an impt issue and I say kudos.

John is wrong. Legal pot IS affecting kids negatively. ESPECIALLY THOSE *$%#& EDIBLES

The pieces Thorpe cited from USA Today and the Colorado Springs Gazette were both op eds that used sources since been criticized by government officials and media outlets alike, which Hickenlooper pointed out to reporters the next day. “I follow my wife’s tweets. She was profusely apologetic. She did not understand the difference in the data, that that the story in USA Today, the op-ed piece on USA Today , was based on faulty data," he said during a briefing.

Although NORML thinks Colorado's marijuana landscape has been looking good under Hickenlooper, that may change in 2019, when a new governor takes over. See the full governor scorecard from NORML here.

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